Friday, November 20, 2009

Re: Chinese Exports

A student of mine, a native of Beijing, offers an interesting observation regarding our post on the influx of students from China. He writes:

I think there is another reason for a lot of Chinese students trying to come over here to study - it is the freedom to pick your own major. [In China]Unless you are a really good student, it's hard to major in something you love. But here, you can pick your major, and switch your major anytime. In the US people are studying the things they love, but in China a lot of people are studying something they are not even interested in.

I wonder what goes through the mind of a student who realizes he must spend the rest of his life doing something he has no interest in whatsoever and who realizes, too, that there's no way out.

I bet prozac sales are booming in China.

Anyway, in the post I was pretty enthusiastic about having the best and the brightest from India and China come here to study. For a less sanguine view read the submission from Emily on the Feedback page.


Fading Glory

President Obama seems to be rapidly approaching the point that Machiavelli warned rulers to avoid at all costs, i.e. the point at which the people no longer respect or fear the prince. This week, in the midst of a feckless trip to China in which he seemed more like a third world mendicant than the leader of the free world, both the President and his attorney general gave utterly incoherent and risible justifications for moving the 9/11 trials to New York. This embarrassing episode followed on the heels of plummeting approval ratings that have him under 50% for the first time in his presidency and an apparent inability to decide what he wants to do in Afghanistan despite the fact that he's had over three months since General McChrystal's request - during which time our troops have been dying and morale has declined - to mull it over. Mr. Obama has also done himself no favors by surrounding himself with a motley collection of tax cheats, Maoists, and sundry other extremists, and revealing himself, in the Gates/Crowley affair, to be rather intemperate and to hold views about race that most people in this country have found distasteful for at least two decades.

To add to this tale of woe the State Department, and thus the President whose policy it carries out, has looked foolish in its clumsy handling of the matter of Honduras; Iran proceeds merrily on its way toward procuring nuclear weapons with which to atomize Israelis; signature legislation (health care reform, cap and trade, card check) limp through Congress having engendered the antipathy of a majority of Americans; jobless numbers are at the highest level in decades; mortgage defaults are increasing alarmingly, and our debt has soared to such heights that we'll never be able to pay it off. To add insult to economic injury, the President was embarrassingly rebuffed in Copenhagen when he journeyed there to plead for the Olympics.

He and his team have appeared inept in running the Cash-for-Clunkers program, as well as in their mystifying accounting of where the stimulus money has gone, and in claiming to have "saved or created" 650,000 jobs that seem to exist nowhere but in their own imaginations. He has reneged on so many campaign promises and has said so many things that seem prima facie to be at variance with the truth that few still trust him to do or mean what he says.

It's no exaggeration to note that Mr. Obama's only accomplishment thus far has been to win a Nobel Prize that he didn't deserve.

If he doesn't quickly start turning things around, and I don't see how he can, he'll soon become a laughingstock on the television comedy shows. Once that happens his approval numbers will sink further to Nixonian depths, and the media will slowly begin to replace adulation with bitter criticism - bitter because they'll have been deply mortified by the failure of the man they touted only a few months ago as a godsend (Perhaps it has already started.). At this point congressional Democrats will begin tending to their own political futures which they'll reckon to be contingent upon putting distance between themselves and the head of their party. When this happens, and it may happen soon, Mr. Obama will be a lame duck.

All of this is astonishing given the enormous good will with which Mr. Obama was greeted by the world community upon his election, and given the extraordinary political advantages enjoyed by any president who is favored by the press and whose party controls both houses of Congress.

In light of all this one wonders what the ramifications would be, both domestically and abroad, of a severely crippled president with three years left in his tenure. It seems to me that it can never be good for the U.S. to have a weak chief executive, but, on the other hand, I believe Obama's agenda, were he able to enact it, would be quite calamitous for the nation. We thus seem to be in deep trouble regardless whether our president is weak or strong.

Perhaps our only hope is that Mr. Obama follows the example of President Clinton who moved toward the center when he found himself politically debilitated, but such a migration is not likely from Mr. Obama. Clinton was a pragmatist, Obama is an ideologue. He can no more abandon his radical vision for America than he can change his eye color. What he is now is what he will be a year from now.

And for that reason, among others, we're in for an interesting twelve-month.